ATLANTA - - The Washington Capitals wasted little time Saturday taking advantage of an Atlanta Thrashers team that is struggling on the ice and dealing with distractions off it.
Nicklas Backstrom, David Steckel, Tom Poti and Jason Chimera also tallied, while Michal Neuvirth made 38 saves to help the Capitals open a pivotal three-game Southeast Division swing with their third straight win overall, fifth in a row over the Thrashers and ninth in 10 division contests this season.
Washington's league-leading offense has scored 17 goals in the past three games and matched its highest output of the season. Atlanta, meanwhile, has lost 10 of its past 11 games as trade rumors swirled around its best player and captain, Ilya Kovalchuk, Saturday. Canadian sports network TSN reported earlier in the day that general manager Don Waddell has begun to "feel out" interest from potential trade partners just in case the Thrashers are unable to work out a long-term extension.
Kovalchuk finished without a point on a night when the Capitals didn't give goalie Johan Hedberg or the Thrashers much of a chance.
Hedberg was pulled by coach John Anderson after Knuble pushed Washington's lead to 4-0 just 4:43 into the second period. The goal was Knuble's second of the night and third in two games, and it came the way the rugged winger scores almost all his goals - by going hard to the net. Knuble's skate appeared to redirect a rebound of a shot from Alex Ovechkin past Hedberg.
At the other end of the ice, Neuvirth turned in another solid performance. The rookie stopped all 18 shots he faced in the first period and thwarted a pair of two-on-one breaks.
Neuvirth's only blemish was a second-period goal that somehow squeezed between his arm and side. Maxim Afinogenov's goal cut the Atlanta lead to 4-1, but it was far too little and much too late.
Neuvirth, 21, has allowed two goals or fewer in six of his past seven starts while filling in for the injured Semyon Varlamov.